Disclaimer: I do not own Fallout New Vegas or any part of the Fallout franchise. I am not making a profit from this.
Note: For the kink meme.
Chapter Two: All Around Was Skin and Bone
The smell of the saloon hits me straight in the face. I recognise alcohol, and sweat, but there are a hundred other smells in here that mean nothing to me. It's barely been a day and I just have this thing chanting over and over in my head – this isn't my world, this isn't my world, this isn't my world.
But it is, now, and I'm not fucking ready for that, okay?
The bar seems, like, maybe half full? It's mostly ghouls, but I can pick out a couple of people who seem pretty intact. There's a guy loitering near the bar, and a blonde sitting by the stairs. Oh, and there's another guy, sitting in the shadows and not looking at all ominous. After that? It's me, and Colin.
A ghoul peels itself away from the counter and saunters forward. I don't know if it's the walk, the way the few remaining strings of red hair fall or the breasts, but I know it's a woman. When she talks, her voice rasps a little differently to Lucas'.
"Colin," she says, sinking into a hip. "Where've you been? We're getting busier."
Colin flashes her a smile. "Just meeting the new girl, Nova, dear. Thought she'd like to visit us here."
He gestures towards me, and I raise a hand awkwardly. "Hi," I say.
The woman – Nova – tilts her head and regards me critically. I'm about to decide whether to start feeling annoyed or nervous when she smiles, a twisted, mostly lipless thing. She holds out a hand and I take it without hesitation. The last thing I want is for these guys to realise how unsettled I am by all this shit. There is nothing in my last nineteen years I can reach for to help me deal with this place.
Nova's grip doesn't feel as slimy or squishy as I thought. Her hand is rough, and the texture of muscle is weird as fuck under my hand, but it's not bad. That, right there, takes a little of the panic out of me. It's like shaking hands with Stanley, only...more. Everything out here is more.
"She's new to the wastes," says Colin, and I wonder briefly if he wants to make that more cryptic. Nova casts an eye over my jumpsuit.
"You don't say?" Her rasp is dry, but friendly. She drags me forward, away from Colin (who's already started feeling like my only lifeline here) and up to the bar. "I'll get you a drink, on me. Gob, slide me a couple of Nukas, we've got a new smoothskin."
Someone straightens up from behind the bar. The guy, who I assume is Gob, who I assume is Moriarty's boss, looks even more incomplete than the other ghouls I've seen here. Something about his bearing and the look in his cloudy eyes strikes me as different, too. He looks more...in command. He looks older. He's holding two bottles of Nuka Cola, which he sets down and cracks open. He passes one to Nova and slides the other one in front of me before speaking.
"Sit down, smoothskin. Let's you and me get to know one another."
I take a seat at the bar, obediently. I can't shake the feeling that this guy has some kind of seniority here, so I figure it's a good idea to sit and listen. I feel someone draw up behind me, and look round to see Colin at my shoulder. He looks guarded, uncertain. When he sees him, Gob's face hardens.
"Moriarty. Toilet needs cleaning, isn't that your job?"
Something closes off behind Colin's eyes. "Yes, boss," he says, and yeah, there's definitely resentment in his voice. Something's going on here, but I haven't the faintest idea what questions to start asking, or to who.
"He, uh, he brought me here," I say, hoping maybe it will excuse his absence. If Gob is as much of a hardass as Colin said, I don't want his goodwill coming crashing down on his head. "He was showing me around the town."
"Yeah, I bet he was." Gob casts a look after Colin as he disappears into a room behind the bar, and for a second, something very ugly flashes in his eyes.
Nova drops onto a stool next to me, nudging me with her shoulder. "So come on, smoothskin, what's your story? We don't exactly get many Vaulties blinking in the sunlight round here."
Gob leans on the bar, smiling, that glint of ugliness gone. "Yeah, everyone I ever met out of a Vault had some story about leaving. Some fairytale of what they expected to find out here. What about you, kid?"
"I...didn't really get much of a choice in the matter," I begin. "I woke up – got woken up – really early this morning by my friend, and then Vault security was after me, and then –" I break off. I remember the feeling of the bat in my hands; the wood, the weight, the way you have to swing it different when you're hitting down, and I remember not stopping. I really, really remember not stopping. "I killed O'Brian. With a bat. And I got out of there. Amata – my friend – she said it was because of my dad. That the Vault wasn't supposed to be opened, but my dad had opened it, that he'd gone –"
I can't make it any further. It hits me, all of a sudden, how homeless and aimless and orphaned I suddenly am. I went to sleep safe, figuring what happened today was going to be the same as any other day, and now...
Gob is frowning at me. "Your dad left the Vault last night? What is he, tall guy, greying hair, lab coat?"
I feel my jaw drop. "Yes. Yes! That's him. Did you see him? Is he here? What happened? Why did he leave?" I launch forward, grabbing Gob's wrists. "Where's my dad? Tell me!"
Gob raises what's left of his eyebrows and slips his hands away from me. I feel Nova's hand on my back, guiding me down into my seat. I try to relax. Shouting at these guys is not going to help anyone.
But the suddenness of it, of my realisation that I'm not completely cut off out here, is incredible. Dad. I can find him. I can make things right.
"Please," I say, trying to keep my voice level. "Please, Gob, Nova. He's the last thing I've got left."
"He came through here," Gob confirms, and my heart gets knocked up to somewhere in the region of my throat. "He was here last night, stayed just a couple of hours. He only came into the Saloon for a few minutes, just to ask if we had any Stimpacks. I sold him the ones we had in, and he left."
"Do you know where he went? Did he say what he was doing?"
Gob shook his head. "It must have been after midnight. Bet most people didn't even see him. He asked where else was open, and I told him, maybe the Brass Lantern, but he said he'd been there." He sighs, scratches his neck. He looks honestly remorseful when he says, "I'm sorry. He only stuck in my mind 'cause we don't get many smoothskins around. If I'd known he'd drag his kid out here after him, I'd have tried to make him stick around."
I can feel myself visibly sag. "So you...you've got no idea where he went?"
"I'm sorry, kid."
I drop my head into my hands. For a second, I thought I'd had something. A plan. A chance. How the fuck am I going to survive out here, what am I going to do?
"Wait, hang on. Didn't Moira stay open late last night?"
I sit up. Nova is frowing, pressing a hand to her head like she's trying to remember something. "Gob. Is it tonight or was it yesterday? She got some...samples, something, I don't know, she said she was going to work through the night so if we needed anything..."
Gob snaps his fingers. "You know, she did. He mighta gone there. That's it, then, kid, you wanna check with Moira."
Nova stands up. "She works at Craterside Supply, just round the corner. I'll take you there now, okay? We can see if she met your old man."
I get to my feet, nodding. "Yeah. That would be – that's great. Thank you so much."
Gob picks up the untouched Nuka Colas and gives Nova a half critical, half amused look. "I'll just hang onto these, then."
She laughs, and grabs the sleeve of my Vault suit. I'm already getting okay with the touching, I notice. "Thanks, Gob. C'mon, kid – hey, what's your name?"
"It's Carla," I say, as she hauls me towards the door. "I'm Carla."
Craterside Supply is a small shack which, as its name hinted at, sits on the side of the crater formed by the bomb's impact. It's got a run down, homely feel, and Nova pushes open the door calling out "Moira! Got a visitor for you!"
Moira (who is, surprise surprise, a ghoul) emerges from someplace around the back, and smiles the widest I think I've seen anyone ever smile. Her accent's weird, not weird like Colin's, but weird, as she blurts out a string of 'hellos' and rushes forward.
She grabs my hand. Nova squeezes my shoulder reassuringly and I figure this is normal behaviour for Moira. She studies my hands and while she does, I study her. She still has most of her hair, and her skin isn't as badly peeled off as Nova's, and nowhere near as badly as Gob's. Maybe...maybe it affects people differently? It doesn't affect everyone, I know that much, but...
There is so much more to know here before I even start feeling comfortable with it.
Moira's eyes reach my face and she lets out a little yelp of recognition. "Oh! Are you James' little girl?"
I practically yank my hands out of hers in shock. "Yes! James, my dad, was he here? Do you know him?"
"He came in last night!" she tells me chirpily. "I sold him a few supplies and he asked a few questions. Said he noticed there were a whole lot more ghouls out here than he remembered! I guess things change in twenty years, huh?"
I blink a couple of times, like that's going to clear up my ears or something. But I can't be hearing this right. "No, you must have got him wrong. He's never been out here before."
Moira looks confused. "I don't know about that. He seemed to know his way around things out here, wasn't shocked to see the state of us here or anything. He remembered Mr Moriarty back from before things started changing, and –"
"Wait." I hold up my hand, my mind reeling. Dad left the Vault? Dad knew Colin? Why hadn't he, why hadn't Gob -? "Slow down, Moira. My dad – he knew Colin? Colin Moriarty, right?"
She nods. "Yup, that's who brought him in here to see me. I sold him some supplies, filled him in on what the traders told me about some of the settlements nearby."
"Did he say where he was going?" Please, please let him have said where he was going.
"I think he was going up to Galaxy News Radio. It's in DC, though, and I did worry about him getting there safely. He told me he'd be fine, though, seemed awful sure about it so I just left him to go on his way!"
I'm out the door before Nova can stop me. Maybe I'm being rude, maybe I'm losing my mind, but I don't care. The saloon's not far, and I'm up the ramps and inside before she can catch up with me. Colin is by the back wall, and Gob's behind the wall.
"You spoke to my father? You knew him?"
Colin looks up as I get close, looking surprised. "Your father?" His face is blank, and then, suddenly, lights up with realisation. "James? James is your father?"
"Someone else was here from the Vault and you didn't think to tell me?" I can hear my voice rising in pitch, and feel myself losing it. I feel betrayed. I've got no idea why I'm latching onto this so strongly – maybe because he's human, maybe because he was kind – but I feel sick and angry and stupid. "You knewhim?"
"Hey, calm down," Gob says, and I feel his hands on my shoulders. I shrug him off sharply. Calm down? In the last twelve hours, I've been abandoned by my father, become a murderer, lost the only place I've ever called home, found myself in a town full of zombies and been hit in the face with what is starting to feel like a really unpleasant truth. Calm is just about the last fucking thing I'm feeling. I wheel on him.
"Did you know? Did you know Colin knew him?"
Gob holds up his palms. "No. What the fuck, no. We told you what we knew, Nova and me. But kid, calm down, or –"
"Stop telling me to calm down!" I shove him away, so very aware of how much of a tantrum I'm throwing right now, but not caring. Everyone is staring at me, the whole bar, a dozen pairs of cloudy eyes and how dare they, how dare anyone in this town of freaks stare at me and judge me and treat me like an idiot, it's not my fault, I never chose my life –
My feet are working of my own accord, and when my head clears from the rage building up in my brain, I'm glad of it. I'm running, and before I know it, I'm at the doors. I get through as quick as possible, out into the wastes, and I run, and I run, and I run.
Twenty years ago? That would mean I wasn't born in the Vault. That it wasn't home. That he lied my whole life. What about my mother? Is she even dead?
He left. Like hell he thought I'd be safe, how could he leave me there, with people who tried to kill me? He told me nothing about what it's like out here, never had the balls to own up to whatever it is that's the truth of this whole pile of shit, and now, now...
I don't know where I'm going. It's stupid, suicidal. But I'm angry, I've spent so many years angry and penned in with nowhere to go, and now it feels like every atom of rage is pouring out of me, thundering into the ruins under my feet. Every time Butch and his cronies made fun of me, every time I felt left out or odd or broken, every rule, every refusal, every wall of my tiny little fake world – everything is just crashing, crashing, crashing.
I run and run until I can't breathe anymore, and then I collapse, in the shell of an old house, and I just cry.